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Argentina investigates outbreak of unidentified illness

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Doctors in full PPE at Luz Médica (Credit: América TV)

Health authorities are investigating an outbreak of an unidentified illness that has sickened at least nine people at a private clinic in northern Argentina, officials say. Three of those infected have died.

The health ministry in Tucumán province reported three new cases at Luz Médica on Thursday, raising the total to nine, with symptoms that include pneumonia and fever. Three of those infected – a doctor, a nurse, and a patient – have died.

Dr. Luis Medina Ruiz, the region’s health minister, said at a briefing on Thursday that experts have so far carried out tests for more than 30 possible causes – including coronavirus, hantavirus, and multiple strains of Legionella – but all have come back negative.

The first known case is a 70-year-old woman who was admitted to Luz Médica in mid-August to undergo surgery for a gallbladder problem. She developed a lung infection on August 18, after which healthcare workers who had contact with her started falling ill.

A doctor and a nurse later died, and the patient died on Thursday morning.

“We are all on alert about this issue,” Medina Ruiz said. “We are releasing guides to public and private intensive care units for the possible appearance of a patient with these characteristics, especially to make a proper diagnosis with all the necessary protocols and PPE, as recommended with all patients with respiratory conditions.”

Although all of the nine cases had an onset of symptoms between August 18 and August 23, it is too early to lift restrictions at the private clinic, Medina Ruiz said. One of the three new cases fell ill during the same period but wasn’t hospitalized until Thursday morning.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) are both monitoring the outbreak.

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